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Head of the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at Announcement to Advance Diversity in Law Enforcement


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning, and thank you all for being here.  I want to thank my colleagues from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), including Chair [Jenny] Yang and Commissioner [Charlotte] Burrows, for joining us at today’s announcement to discuss the importance of diversity in law enforcement.  I also want to acknowledge Director [Ron] Davis, for his steadfast and innovative leadership of our COPS Office (Office of Community Oriented Policing Services).

Our nation is in the midst of an unprecedented dialogue about the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

Over the past year, I have traveled to cities across America to participate in this national conversation as it takes shape in local communities.  I have felt the profound pain of parents who lost children in tragic, officer-involved shootings; of youth who no longer have faith in our justice system; and of vulnerable residents who have endured humiliating encounters with police.  And in the same cities where residents feel marginalized, I have heard the palpable frustration from brave police officers who feel attacked and undervalued; who talk about facing blame for policies they didn’t create; and who explain how the daily stress of their jobs takes a toll.

I see the deeply-rooted mistrust that can forge a divide between police officers and the residents they serve.  But I also see the unique promise of this moment to achieve meaningful reform.  And I believe that to holistically address the complex challenges we face, diversity in law enforcement must be a critical part of our conversation.                                    

No single solution, including a more diverse police force, will strengthen fragmented ties of community trust overnight or guarantee safe, effective and constitutional policing.  Yet greater diversity can increase trust between police officers and the communities they serve – trust essential to defusing tension, to solving crimes and to creating a system where citizens view law enforcement as fair and just.

Enhanced trust also enables conscientious police officers to more productively, safely and effectively perform their jobs.  In addition, when law enforcement agencies commit to diverse hiring and promotion practices, they create new pathways of economic opportunity for hard-working men and women dreaming of a career in public safety, striving to lift themselves into the middle class and working tirelessly to provide for their families.

While the Civil Rights Division continues to lead robust enforcement efforts to prevent employment discrimination, today I want to highlight one new and proactive step aimed to bolster diversity in law enforcement.

For the past several months, in close coordination with the EEOC, Department of Labor and our other federal counterparts, the Civil Rights Division has worked collaboratively to promote diversity in policing.  In January, we provided the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing with a literature review that surveyed existing research evaluating the steps law enforcement agencies can adopt to enhance their diversity.

As the task force highlighted in its final report, diversity in policing can help officers to deal more effectively with challenges in their communities.  In March, following our investigation of the Ferguson Police Department – where African Americans make up roughly 67 percent of the city’s population but, earlier this year, accounted for less than 8 percent of its police force – our report addressed the connection between the department’s lack of racial diversity and undermined community trust.  As a result, we recommended that the Ferguson Police Department reform its system for recruiting, hiring and promoting officers by instituting objective and consistent standards in line with best practices and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Building on these efforts, today I am delighted to stand with Chair Yang from the EEOC and announce a new research initiative designed to identify the barriers that undermine diversity in law enforcement, and propose promising practices for promoting equal opportunity in recruiting, hiring, promoting and retaining police officers.

This research will assist law enforcement agencies throughout the country as they strive to build a workforce that reflects the diversity of the communities they serve.  In particular, we hope this research will aid those small and mid-size departments that recognize the importance of diversity, but may lack the resources or bandwidth to fully explore solutions.

Let me be clear.  The Civil Rights Division and the EEOC do not have all the answers.  For this effort to succeed, we need your engagement, your feedback and your help.  In order to learn about the barriers that inhibit diversity, we need to hear directly from all stakeholders – from police departments and labor unions, from civil rights advocates and academic experts, and from municipal officials and community members.

We also recognize that successful models already exist – that some communities and law enforcement agencies have made tangible progress – and we want to learn from you.  Today, I am pleased to announce that the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) will spearhead the engagement effort for our research project.  And you will hear from CPE’s President and Co-Founder, Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, in just a few minutes.                                          

In closing, I want to emphasize that while diversity in law enforcement is a national challenge, it demands local solutions.  But my sincere belief is that as each of you confronts this challenge in your own communities, the support we provide and the research we produce will prove valuable and instructive.

For our country to fulfill its founding ideals of fundamental fairness and equal opportunity; for our communities to realize their full potential of peace, prosperity and security; and for people from every walk of life to feel well respected and truly represented, we must recommit ourselves to ensuring that our law enforcement agencies reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Now, it is my privilege to introduce the chair of the EEOC, Jenny Yang, whose outstanding leadership on equal employment opportunity gives me great hope and optimism for all that we will accomplish together in the days ahead.  Please join me in welcoming Jenny Yang. 

Updated August 19, 2016